Toulouse-Lautrec: Ready for Dinner

Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC (1864-1901)
L’Épervier (1re planche)
or Aigle

Lithograph printed in olive-green on simili-japon wove paper, 1897.
References: Delteil 322 ii/ii, Adriani 267, Wittrock 226.
One of a handful of impressions in the second state, with the monogram.
No first states could be found anywhere.
Annotated in ink with a menu, dated April 28, 1897.
Image: 7 ⅜ x 6 ½ inches.  Sheet: 16 ¾ x 11 ¾ inches.
It was folded, likely at the end of the meal, to be easily taken home as a memento.

This menu is extremely rare; quite possibly the last impression in private hands.  It is one of about 6 to 8 impressions according to Loys Delteil (in 1920), and one of only 4 know impressions according to Wolfgang Wittrock (in 1985). If Delteil can be trusted, there may exist one or two impressions of the first state, before the monogram.  There are however, no traces of this first state anywhere, aside from Delteil mentioning it.  Wittrock records two, of the four impressions he has encountered by 1985, in museum collections (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris & Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart). This particular copy is mentioned by Adriani in the catalogue he co-authored with Wittrock and Götz in 1976.  At the time it belonged to the famous book and print dealer Marcel Lecomte, Paris.  It seems to still be there in 1985, when Wittrock publishes his own catalogue.  I was not able to find out when this impression was sold by Marcel Lecomte, or his son Bernard.  It was acquired in 2015 from a Parisian collector.

The menu depicts a sparrowhawk or eagle atop a rabbit it has just captured.  The bird is defiantly protecting his prey, blood still dripping from its beak.  While the subject captures nature’s laws, what mostly stands out is the magnificence of the bird.  Lautrec chose this subject matter for three reasons we can think of.  First, birds of prey were used for hunting on the Chateau de Bosc estate, where young Henri spent most of his childhood.  A photograph of Henri, with his father holding a falcon, survived.

There are also a number of childhood drawings that depict such birds of prey.  The second reason for picking this subject was that Lautrec had worked on a series of illustrations for a book on natural history by Jules Renard, which was published in 1897.  A variant on the subject of the hawk (which is not as attractive as this one, in our opinion) was actually part of this series of lithographs.  Finally, Lautrec’s propensity towards whimsy cannot be discounted.  The bird is about to enjoy his meal, as are the guests to the meal listed in elegant cursive writing below the image.

It is suggested that another menu, which depicts a small bull dog, and for which a handwritten copy also exist, was made for some event for Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran, Lautrec’s cousin, and to whom Henri was close.  Both in that menu and in ours, monograms are drawn that are not Lautrec’s.  The letters in ours seem to be ETCG (or ETG), in the other TC.  Both of these could indeed refer to Lautrec’s cousin.  Then again, no further proof has been found yet. Lautrec created a number of menus over the years, but mostly around 1896 & 1897.  Some of these, like ours, have handwritten courses in ink.  One such menu, for a dinner at May Belfort’s is currently in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.  In this menu as in ours, one animal, the cat, is about to enjoy dinner as well!

It is quite possible that Henri, who often scribbled in his personal correspondence, used his best handwriting for these menus, and that they are in fact in his hand.  None of these menus were ever printed in larger editions, and they were clearly made for friendly events.  In the May Belfort menu, the trout the guests are about to enjoy are from the Lac Michigan.  Lautrec’s humor clearly transpires in these ephemera.

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